Skip to comments.Suspect in Windsor murders loses in suit against police
Posted on 02/26/2006 9:51:49 AM PST by freepatriot32
Jatin M. Patel, long the Windsor Police Department's leading suspect in the 1996 murders of his mother and sister in his parents' Massow Lane home, has lost a civil-rights lawsuit against the police chief and the lead detective in the case.
Patel, 45, has failed to appeal the decision, made by Judge Stefan R. Underhill in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport on Sept. 16, and the deadline for an appeal has passed. As a result, Underhill's decision in favor of Windsor Police Chief Kevin Searles and Detective Debra Swanson is final.
Patel alleged in the lawsuit, filed in 1999, that the police defamed him and deliberately set his family against him in an effort to develop evidence tying him to the March 21, 1996, strangulation and burning murders of his mother, Champaben Patel, 54, and his sister, Anita Patel, 32.
The lawsuit focused on two documents distributed by police during the investigation:
* A memo from Swanson to Searles titled "Jatin Patel as a Suspect," which Searles admitted giving to Jatin Patel's cousin Ashwin Javia in January 1997. In the four-page memo, which was subsequently distributed widely among the extended family and the media, Swanson detailed evidence pointing to Jatin Patel as a suspect in the murders.
She also suggested that he had engaged in "secret business and extramarital affairs." Although the detective acknowledged in the memo that these matters "do not necessarily have any direct bearing on the murder," she suggested that they point to "a pattern of Jatin leading a double life."
* A handwritten letter Swanson sent to Seema Patel a day after trying to interview her in November 1997 at the couple's home in Hendersonville, Tenn., where they had moved a few months earlier from their previous home in Farmington, Conn.
"I believe that Jay's double life has caused the brutal torture and murder of two other women," Swanson wrote, using Jatin Patel's nickname.
"My concern is that if he reaches that point of anger again, without you knowing about it, you and the children could suffer the same horrible fate," the detective added. "Once a person kills, it is much easier to kill again.
"Even if Jay did not commit the murders himself, his double life is responsible for them and could be again," Swanson continued.
Referring to Seema Patel's statement the previous day that she was willing to suffer in this lifetime for any of her "past karmas," Swanson wrote, "If you do not help us to prevent more killing and find justice, then you create new karmas which could be powerful enough to cause you to become an animal in your next life."
Jatin Patel's lawyer, Jon L. Schoenhorn of Hartford, has called the letter racist. The Patel family is from India and follows the Hindu religion, which includes beliefs in reincarnation and "the law of karma," holding that actions in this life influence how the soul will be reborn.
Swanson said in a deposition that she got the religious information from Bharat Patel, Anita Patel's widower. She said that section of her letter was read back to him to make sure it captured what he had been trying to convey.
Underhill granted a motion for "summary judgment" filed by lawyers for the chief and the detective, meaning that he ruled in their favor without a trial. The judge concluded that no reasonable jury could have ruled for Patel, even if it believed all his evidence.
As to the memo, the judge held that there was insufficient evidence for a jury to find that it was "addressed to an attack on familial relationship" that Jatin Patel had with any member of his family.
"It may have had that indirect effect, but there is no evidence that it was targeting that relationship," Underhill said, according to a transcript of his ruling from the bench. Rather, he said, the letter was a "reasonable and appropriate" response by police to repeated questions from the family as to why Jatin Patel was a suspect.
Moreover, the judge said, the memo was "almost entirely accurate." Any inaccuracies were insignificant and "reflected the opinions of the Police Department concerning Mr. Patel's involvement in this murder," the judge added.
As to Swanson's letter to Seema Patel, Underhill said, "a reasonable jury could find the primary purpose was to attack the loyalty that Seema felt for her husband."
But he said the law at the time was unclear - and that reasonable police officers could have disagreed as to whether that was "a legitimate investigatory technique" or a violation of Jatin Patel's constitutional rights. As a result, he said, Swanson and Searles were legally immune from being sued over the letter.
No libel found
Underhill also ruled that neither the memo nor the letter was libelous under state law.
"The potential defamatory impact of that memorandum is the suggestion that Patel was the chief suspect or that he, in fact, had murdered his mother and sister," the judge said. "That is a legitimate opinion or conclusion that was drawn by the Police Department. It is not a matter of fact that can be proven to be false and, accordingly, doesn't give rise to libel."
The letter to Seema Patel was likewise lacking in libelous statements, Underhill said, "with the possible exception of the suggestion that Patel was unfaithful to his wife. Again, there is sufficient evidence to support that opinion by the Police Department."
"There certainly may be suggestions that the police tactics here were harsh," the judge added. "They may not have been kind to Mr. Patel."
No one has been charged in the murders of Champaben and Anita Patel. Schoenhorn said in court papers that Hartford State's Attorney James Thomas rejected an arrest-warrant application by police.
A $9.3 million wrongful-death suit filed against Jatin Patel by family members, including his father and sister, was settled for about $130,000 in 1999.
Schoenhorn was out of the country this week and unavailable for comment, according to his office. Jatin Patel couldn't immediately be located for comment.
Scott Karsten, the lawyer who represented Searles and Swanson, said the case should have been dismissed at an earlier stage. He said a decision by the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York that allowed the case to go forward puts a burden on police officers by forcing them to treat family members of a suspect differently from other witnesses.
He said he thought the pretrial discovery process was an end in itself in the case, but he said Underhill put appropriate limits on it and that the investigation probably wasn't harmed.
p.s the guy was a complete idiot for not appealing this decision
You have a very interesting hobby.
Its not just a hobby its a way of life :-)
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